Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Recipe: "Perfectly" Soft, 100% Whole, Multi-grain Sandwich Bread

When I set out to make a "light and fluffy" 100% whole grain bread, everything I read said that wasn't possible. You had to use some all-purpose or bread flour to get a truly light bread, they said. No more than 50% whole grain flour, they said. I chose not to believe this and persevered. I rejoiced when I actually found a couple recipes online that claimed otherwise, but when I made them they came out heavy and dense. Not to be deterred, I decided to invent my own. It took a LOT of experimenting and I made a LOT of bread (which my husband selflessly devoured so I could make even more). But I figured it out and it was SO worth the time and effort. Now, it's time to share what I learned.

Baking bread is kind of like making love. Technique matters. I've spent hours writing this out in detail because the method is just as important as the ingredients here. Read my instructions and suggestions. Follow them. It really does make a difference. Granted, those of you with experience baking bread probably won't require the amount of hand-holding I've included in this recipe, but I encourage you to read through it all just the same. There are some points in here that may seem contrary to your baker's instincts ... particularly, the amount of moisture in the dough and the final rise. These two points are critical to a light, fluffy loaf, but very hard for the experienced bread-maker to accept as "correct." I ask you to trust me on this. I've played with several iterations of this recipe until I found the "sweet" spot for this particular bread. Give it a chance. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

This recipe was developed using weight measurements for the dry ingredients instead of volume. I STRONGLY suggest you use a scale to measure the amounts rather than a measuring cup. I have included approximate volume measurements in parenthesis to get you in the ballpark, but using those instead of weighing your ingredients could lead to unpredictable results. Since the weight of liquids is not nearly as dynamic as those of dry ingredients, I've given volumetric amounts for them (with weights in parenthesis for you purists). I've found that a cup of water or milk tends to weigh about the same every time and, frankly, measuring liquids by volume is MUCH easier than by weight, once you figure out the equivalent. However, if you decide to scale the recipe, do so using the weights, not the volumes, for ALL ingredients.

Making this bread properly takes 6 hours or longer. I've given a couple places where you might be able to shave that down by an hour or even two, but realize that your bread won't be as good if you do that. If I want fresh bread with dinner, I start this about 10-11 am ... definitely no later than noon. The good news is, most of that time you can be off doing something else while the bread does its thing. Once it's mixed, you just need to punch it down every hour or so until it's ready to be shaped.

This recipe makes a single loaf for a 9"x5" loaf pan ... not an 8"x4" one.  If you need to fit it into a smaller pan, you will need to either adjust the recipe down (probably about 25-30%) or shape some of the dough into rolls or something. Don't try to cram the entire 750-ish grams of dough into a smaller pan ... you'll be disappointed in the result. Also, because this is a very soft dough, I've not yet tried to free-shape it and bake it without a pan. I suspect the result would be very flat and wide. The soft dough needs some support if you want a tall loaf ... thus the loaf pan. This was intended all along to be a sandwich bread baked in a pan, not an artisan style loaf (though we've admittedly devoured quite a bit along with our evening meals, shape be damned).

You can double this recipe to get two loaves ... one to eat immediately and a second to put away for sandwiches. I stopped doing that because, well, we were eating WAY too much bread. You can also freeze one of the loaves if you only have time to bake bread once a week but want that fresh bread taste all week long. (Just remember to use the weights, not volumes, when scaling.)

What is spelt flour? Flour made from spelt, an ancient form of wheat with a high protein count. It gives a nutty, slightly sweet flavor to the bread and adds a richness to the aroma that will drive you absolutely crazy as it bakes. I get mine in the bulk food aisle at Fred Meyer. If you can't find it or don't want to use it, substitute an equivalent WEIGHT of white whole wheat flour instead. Note: spelt is heavier than white whole wheat flour, so you have to go by weight not volume or you will end up using too much!

What is white whole wheat flour? Whole grain flour made from white wheat instead of red wheat, from which we get "traditional" whole wheat flour. White wheat is softer and ground finer, so it gives you a lighter texture, color yet retains all the nutritional benefits of the whole grain. I love the stuff! Be warned, though, it absorbs more moisture than all-purpose or bread flour, so you can't do a straight substitution. Also, all-purpose and bread flours aren't made from the whole grain, so I tend to avoid them. Alternately, using only traditional red whole wheat flour (which IS whole grain), will give a much heavier bread. White whole wheat flour is the key to a light loaf. Try it.

What is 7-grain hot cereal mix? It's kind of like cream of wheat only there is a lot more than just wheat in there and they use the whole grain. I get mine in the bulk food aisle. It contains whole grain hard red wheat, rye, oats, triticale (wheat), barley, brown rice, oat bran, flaxseed. There are also 5- and 10-grain varieties. I've not tried them, but I suspect they would also work. This recipe calls for a mixture of 7-grain cereal and cracked wheat, but you could use all of one or the other, as long as the total weight is 40 grams. I've done all three varieties and all three taste great, but my favorite is the version with both.

What is vital wheat gluten? It's the natural protein found in wheat. It gives whole grain flour some extra lift. I use it in this recipe because my goal was a soft, light bread. You can skip it, but your bread will probably not rise as much nor be as light. I buy mine in the bulk food aisle, but you can also get it online. I noticed a significant increase lift when I started using this stuff with my whole grain flours. Doesn't take much, about a tablespoon for every 2-3 cups of flour.

Which yeast should I use???  I've used both quick rising (aka instant) and active dry in this recipe with almost identical results. I am currently using Red Star brand yeast and both quick rise and active dry jars say you can mix the yeast into the flour to add it, which is what I do in this recipe. I really don't think it matters which you choose. The quick rise MAY give you a slightly faster rise, but not significantly so. Just make sure it is fresh enough to still be active and you should be good to go. I do not adjust the amount of yeast when I switch between the two.

  • 21 g (about 2 tbsp) cracked wheat
  • 21 g (about 2 tbsp) 7-grain hot cereal mix (for a heartier but still fluffy version, increase this to 42 g and increase the water to 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup (230 g) boiling water (1 1/4 cup or 280 grams if using larger amount of cereal)
  • 2/3 cup (150 g) very warm milk (I use 1%. Use whatever, but you might want to weigh it for comparison. In this case, I'd start with the volume measurement since it is moisture not milk fat we are concerned with here. If necessary adjust toward the weight if your bread doesn't turn out quite right.)
  • 2 tbsp (42 g) honey or molasses (Molasses will give a stronger flavor and darker color to your bread. I prefer honey in this recipe.)
  • 125 g (about 1 cup) stone-ground whole wheat flour (I use Bob's Red Mill, but any good quality, whole wheat flour should work)
  • 8 g (1 tbsp) yeast, quick rising or active (see info above)
  • 2 tbsp (30 g) butter, melted and cooled (I use unsalted unless I'm out, then I use salted. Both work. You can also sub in any oil, but I like butter in this recipe. Looking for a distinctive flavor? Try walnut oil. It's tasty, but a little pricey so I tend to save it for artisan loaves.)
  • 100 g (slightly more than 1 cup) white whole wheat flour
  • 100 g (a bit more than 3/4 cup) spelt flour (or use total of 200 g white whole wheat flour instead)
  • 8 g (1/2 tbsp) salt (I usually use kosher, but table salt and sea salt also work. Just use 8 g, whatever the type.)
  • 8 g (1 tbsp) vital wheat gluten
  • extra 7-grain cereal and/or rolled oats for top of bread (sesame seeds are also good)

Measure cracked wheat and/or 7-grain cereal into large mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over it and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.

Heat milk to scalding (about 180 degrees F). Add hot milk and honey to grain mixture. Test temp. It needs to be warm but below 130 degrees F. 115-120 degrees would be ideal, but mine is usually cooler than that. Hotter will kill your yeast. If it is too hot, let it sit until it cools a bit.

SEE NOTE ABOVE ABOUT YEAST IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY. If you are using active dry yeast that says it should be "activated" or "proofed" then add the yeast first, allow it to sit for about 5 minutes, then add the flour. Otherwise, just mix the yeast and stone-ground flour together and add it to soaked grain mixture, mixing well. Allow to sponge for about 45-60 minutes, until it rises and just starts to fall back on itself, forming cracks in the surface. This is a good time to melt your butter and set it aside to cool. By the time the sponge is ready, the butter will be, too.

The "cracks" in the center of the sponge show it is starting to collapse inward. This means it is ready.
Add cooled butter to sponge mixture; mix well. Try to remember to do this BEFORE you add the rest of the flour, as it is MUCH easier to mix it into the sponge. Trust me. *ahem*

Combine remaining flours, vital wheat gluten and salt. Mix into sponge dough. Switch to dough hook and knead on low power for 7 minutes. About halfway through the kneading, I use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and turn the dough over, to make sure everything mixed thoroughly. The dough should stay soft and sticky but start to clump around the hook. It will pull from the sides of the bowl a bit but not come completely clear from it. You will think it's too sticky. You will want to add more flour. DON'T! This is how it is supposed to be.  

After kneading, soft and sticky dough.
If you don't have a mixer with a dough hook, turn the dough out on the counter and knead by hand for 7-10 minutes. This will probably get messy, as this is a very soft dough. Try not to add too much more flour during the mixing process, in spite of the stickiness. For this particular recipe, I strongly recommend the use of a mixer and dough hook because it can be difficult to handle at this stage.

Fully risen dough

Scrape dough into a large, greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rise until double in bulk, about 45-60 minutes for me. The traditional "poke" test doesn't seem to work well with such a soft dough, so I just let it get nice and big and full. Note: I used to put my bread dough on the pellet stove to rise, because it's nice and warm there. However, bread develops better flavor if it rises more slowly, so now I just cover it and leave it on the counter in my kitchen. Unless your house is really chilly, you can probably do the same.

"Punched and folded" dough, a little firmer now but still sticky
Punch the dough down in center and fold the edges over the middle. I use a spatula for this because the dough is still quite sticky. Allow it to rise until doubled again. Repeat punching and folding. If time allows, permit a third rise. Note: you can shape the dough after the first or second rise if time is an issue. However, the more times you let it rise, the better your flavor and crumb will be. Trust me, if you can make the time, it is totally worth waiting for that third rise.

After it's risen as many times as you wish, scrape the dough onto lightly floured counter. Dust hands with flour and gently flatten into a rough rectangle, approximately twice as tall as it is wide. Fold top third over center. Fold bottom third over top. Allow dough to rest for 10-20 minutes.

Turn dough 90 degrees. Again, gently flatten into a rough rectangle. Starting at the edge nearest you, roll the dough up, stretching it slightly as you do. Pinch the edge down to secure. Bring side edges up and over, pinching them in place. Flip dough over to put seams on the bottom. OPTIONAL: Spritz the top of the dough with water and roll it in a mixture of 7-grain cereal and rolled oats to coat. This makes the loaf pretty and adds some interesting texture to the top crust, but is not necessary for the bread itself. Note: There are videos on YouTube that show you how to shape a sandwich loaf. The visual really helps. It's difficult for me to take pictures or video while shaping, as my hands are busy and usually covered in flour.

Immediately after shaping, before the final rise.
Place the loaf, seam side down, in greased 9"x5" loaf pan. Allow to rise until top is 1-2 inches above the top of the pan. Sides of the loaf should be just about even with the pan's top edge. This can take an hour or more, especially if you really worked the dough while shaping. Because of all the handling, it will take longer than the previous rises. You will think it's over-proofing. Most likely, it isn't. Just give it some time.

When you think the loaf is almost ready, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (425 degrees if, like me, you have a convection oven). If you like, you can slash the bread down the center, about 1/2 inch deep immediately before baking. However, I stopped doing that because I've never had a loaf of this particular bread blow out on me and I found they tend to bake up taller and fluffier if I don't slash. The choice is yours.

This loaf is ALMOST but not quite proofed. I can tell it's not ready because when I gently poke it, it resists and immediately springs back. Not time to bake just yet, but it IS time to start preheating the oven.

NOW it's ready. It's a little rounder, a little softer and it's up above the edge of the pan. This is about 15 minutes after the previous pic and about 5 minutes after my oven hit temp, which is pretty much perfect timing.

Bake the bread for about 35 minutes. If necessary, rotate the pan halfway through to allow it to brown evenly. When the center of the bread passes 200 degrees F, it's done. Past 205 degrees, it's probably overdone. (To test, remove loaf from pan, insert thermometer in bottom of loaf. If not done, return to loaf to pan and pan to oven and give it a few more minutes. After you've made a couple loaves, you'll figure out exactly how long it needs to cook in your oven and testing will no longer be necessary.)

Remove the loaf from the pan IMMEDIATELY so that it doesn't steam itself all soggy. Cool on a rack to keep the bottom of the loaf dry. Wait at least half an hour before slicing. Yeah, it's going to be agony, but the bread is still cooking when you first take it out. Also, it'll be easier to slice after it's set for a bit.

Cool completely before storing. This bread keeps well for 2-3 days (assuming it lasts that long). After that, I make a fresh loaf and turn any leftovers into croutons, but that's a different recipe.

1 scrumptious, flavor-laden, aromatic, 1-1/2 lb (750 g) loaf of the lightest, fluffiest 100%-whole-grain bread you've ever eaten AND the adoration of your family, adults and children alike. Seriously.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Giving Back

About a year and half ago, I realized that I simply didn't feel very well anymore. I was always tired, no matter how much I slept. I was in at least some pain almost all the time ... achy bones and muscles complaining on a daily basis. I didn't feel sick, but I was definitely "off" ... not some of the time but ALL of the time. It wasn't good.

Then, on an impulse, I ordered a blood glucose test kit. It confirmed a suspicion that had been at the back of my mind. No, I wasn't diabetic but I WAS experiencing occasional blood sugar spikes. My body was struggling to deal with the food I was giving it. And, apparently, this was making me feel, well, like crap.

So, I made some changes. Small ones at first. I cut back on my carbs, especially refined sugars and starches. I added whole foods and protein, especially fruits, vegetables and nuts (which, fortunately, I love), to every meal I ate, including snacks. I also turned a critical eye to all the meals I'd been preparing over the years.  I've cooked pretty much my whole life but never really thought a lot about the foods that went into the meals. That changed. I wanted everything I ate, with very few exceptions, to be healthful. That meant learning how to cook all over again.

Over the next several months I scoured the web, looking for healthy alternatives to food I'd been eating my whole life. I found many wonderful cooking blogs that helped steer me in the right direction. I revamped all my recipes, switching to whole grains and fresh ingredients wherever possible. I gave up potatoes and started eating squash. I switched to whole wheat pasta and discovered I loved it! I learned how to thicken sauces with egg or whole wheat flour instead of cornstarch. I loaded soups and stews with tons of veggies instead of starchy roots and noodles. Every dish I made was evaluated and tweaked until it was as healthy as I could make it. And, to my surprise, most of them tasted as good as before, if not better.
Baking presented its own special challenge. I love baking and I LOVE baked goods. But they tend to be loaded with sugar and refined flour. My body was telling me I couldn't eat that stuff all the time anymore. So, I experimented with whole grain flours and cutting back on sugar in all my favorite recipes. I didn't go the sugar substitute route ... that wasn't what I was after. I wanted natural, healthy foods not artificial sweeteners. But I also wanted less sugar and fewer carbs, especially refined sugar and flour. I switched to honey where possible, raw or minimally processed sugars when it wasn't, and used them sparingly. I still resorted to refined sugars occasionally, usually as brown sugar or molasses, but I did so minimally. I also discovered that, as I ate less sweet stuff, I didn't need food to be as sweet to enjoy it. Which let me cut back on sugar even more. This, in turn, led to the development of a whole bunch of new, low sugar, whole grain recipes that tasted really good but didn't cause my blood sugar to wig out. My body was happier and so was I. But I didn't stop there.
I also started exercising regularly. Just a little each day to begin with, but my body responded eagerly and I soon began to increase my activity more and more. I could feel myself growing stronger, healthier and, yes, leaner to. I lost fat and grew muscle. I treated my body with a new found respect, both in how I used it and what I put into it. It really made a difference. I started to feel great!
Now, almost a year and a half later, I feel like a new person. I still have a ways to go, but I'm enjoying the journey. I'm also finding I spend less time looking for recipes and a lot more time developing my own. So, I've decided it's time to give back some of what I received. I want to take the things I've learned over the past months and share it with others. Who knows? Maybe someone out there, looking to eat and feel healthier, will come across MY blog and find something that helps them along their way. Wouldn't that just be awesome?